If you joined social media in its early days, say 2005-2009 or so, there’s certain words and phrases that will resonate with you, that others who started using social media later just don’t understand. Such as:
- The Summer of Plurk
- Fail Whale
- Dooce (also “You’ve been Dooced!”)
Dooce is the online name for Heather Armstrong. Heather was one of the first ‘mommy bloggers’ and for a period of time around 2008 or 2009, she was likely the most popular blogger on the planet.
Earlier this month, Heather passed away. According to her boyfriend, the cause of death was suicide. Heather was 47 years old.
I wasn’t a regular Dooce reader. But you didn’t have to be to immediately see that Heather had a very acidic wit. She had personality, she had flair. She could write in a way that captivated the attention of her readers. And she cussed a lot. It seems pretty obvious that she was using her blog as a way to attempt to cope with the issues she was facing in her everyday life. I think all bloggers do this to some degree. She bared her struggles and triumphs for all to see, and that generated a lot of attention for her, a lot of fans, and a lot of success.
And with success in social media, comes criticism. The AP article I linked to about Heather’s death doesn’t specifically state this, but it heavily implies that the hate she received over the success of her Dooce site contributed to her issues. It’s an insanely weird thing to see people that have no idea who you are, criticizing you. Leveling personal attacks at you. Based on nothing more than simple jealousy.
When I announced I was writing Think Like a Rock Star back in early 2012, the amount of criticism I got for simply announcing I was writing a book was stunning to me. I suddenly had industry peers attacking me. I wasn’t qualified to write a book, I was copying my idea from another author. I had one industry guy I was following specifically tell someone on Twitter to NOT buy my book, that I wasn’t qualified to write on the topic. My first thought was ‘Buddy, you have no earthly idea what you are talking about. You have no idea what clients I have now, which ones I’ve already worked with or what work I’ve done for them.”
And he didn’t. All he knew was that I was writing a book, and that made him jealous cause he didn’t have one.
I’ve watched this same scenario play out countless times on social media over the last 18 years with countless people. When you are building your network, there will always come a tipping point at which you suddenly become ‘big’ enough to attract detractors. These people reach a point where they have achieved more success than they should have. Now they are open to criticism. Because someone decided that they didn’t ‘deserve’ that much success, and that opens them to criticism. From strangers that have no idea what they are talking about.
The AP article above says that Dooce.com had 8 million monthly viewers at its peak. I can only imagine the amount of criticism and attacks she would have to endure from strangers, at that volume.
From strangers. Anonymously. On the internet.
I started blogging in 2005. What really attracted me to blogging from the start was the idea that blogging gives everyone a voice. If you have a blog, then you have a way to share your voice with the world. When I first started blogging, every day I would track new links using Technorati (see the list at the start of the post). One day in late 2005, I saw a link from what appeared to be a Chinese site. I did some investigating, and the link was coming from a 13 year-old girl in China that had linked to my blog from hers. That alone opened my eyes to the potential of blogging. That people of all ages, locations, and backgrounds, all around the world, could connect and engage and share ideas and build friendships.
At least, that was the promise of blogging and social media. But over the years, I saw that promise increasingly give way to a reality of spite, anger, trolls and harassment. Strangers attacking other strangers just because they could.
We never fully realized that promise of blogging and social media as a way to bring the world closer together, to support each other. In fact, we missed that mark so badly that many people now question if we would have been better off if we never had social media.
But social media didn’t cause this, we did. Blogs and social media are just the tools we used to be bitter and jealous towards each other. Ironically, as I am writing this, a friend has PMed me on Facebook about an instance of them being attacked on FB because of their opinions.
We are better than this. I made a mistake in the title of this post, social media didn’t fail us.
We failed each other.
Goodbye, Heather. You are one of the pioneers of blogging and social media, and you opened doors for many more who came after you. I’m sorry for criticism you had to deal with, but I would like to think that you were aware of the impact you had on this space.
There will never be another Heather Armstrong. But right now, there is a blogger who is about to get her big break. Maybe she’s about to get her first sponsor, or her first job due to her blog, or maybe her first book deal.
When that happens, let’s be happy for her. Let’s assume she deserves it, and let’s not give in to any jealousy we might want to entertain. Instead, let’s cheer her on, and let’s try to learn from her and apply it to our own efforts.
Because with any luck, we might be the next blogger that makes it big. And when success arrives, let’s hope kindness and congratulations accompanies it.
Because we deserve it. And we deserve to be the person who is good enough to treat others as we would want to be treated.